It is well known that pets can be really good for us. They provide us with a great source of comfort and companionship, help us increase our physical activity, reduce anxiety and can also help teach our children responsibility.

But often the hardest part about being a pet owner is the heartbreak of losing a pet when the time comes. It would be lovely for our pets to live as long as we do, but sadly that isn’t often the case. For most people, children especially, their pet mean more to them than just an animal that their family owns. They are often thought of as part of the family, a best friend, a fur baby.

Your family pet may be the first to greet you in the morning or rush to the children when they return from school. Your children may confide in the family pet and use them as a source of comfort when they are feeling sad or poorly.

For a lot of children the loss of a pet is the first time they have experienced death or grieving. By grieving in a healthy way this can set them up to cope with losses throughout their life. We should never underestimate the loss of a pet, nor should we value the loss as greater for certain types of pets – for example, “it was only a hamster”. This can be very upsetting and frustrating for the person struggling with that loss (no matter the person’s age). We should try to approach the loss of a pet equally and respectfully no matter of the type of pet.

 How to Deal With Losing A Pet: Talking Before it Happens

If you have the opportunity to speak to your child before the death occurs this can be helpful. You could explain that:

      Their pet is very old.

      Their pet has a long term illness and will not get better.


If you have to have your pet euthanised by a vet, you may want to explain:

      The vets have done everything they can but their pet is not going to get better.

      Their pet will die peacefully without feeling pain and will not be scared.

Telling Children Their Pet has Died

One of the hardest things for parents is breaking the sad news to their child that their pet has died.

It is important to tell a child of any age when someone important in their lives has died, and ideally, this is done by someone who is closest to them. Try to find a quiet space and speak to them one to one to avoid unnecessary distractions. It’s also important to guide children in understanding how they can deal with losing a pet.


CBeebies gave these wonderful tips on how to talk to children about the loss of a pet*


Use clear, simple language – Children will need a clear explanation to help them make sense of what’s happened. Keep the information you give simple and truthful, and use words they can understand. Avoid using euphemisms like ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘lost, instead say ‘dead’ or ‘died’. This helps to stop children becoming confused.


Talk about what ‘dying’ means –  Explain to your child that all living things die – leaves, plants, trees and our pets. This is an important step in their eventual understanding of death. It also can be helpful to explain that when an animal dies it’s no longer hungry, thirsty, tired or cold and that it won’t feel any pain. This is a tricky subject, and it’s worth trying to make it a general topic of conversation before a death occurs.


Label your feelings – Make sure your little one understands that grieving a pet means they may feel sad, worried or even angry about what’s happened. Explain that it’s important to remember these are all normal emotions to experience when losing a pet or loved one. Younger children will need your help to label how they’re feeling – so saying things like ‘I think you’re feeling sad because Pickles died’ can be useful.


Focus on happy times – It’s important to help your child understand how to deal with losing a pet. It can take time to feel less sad about a pet that’s died, but focusing on the happiness you shared and doing activities that your child enjoys can help them to start feeling better. Reassure them that it will get easier to remember good times with their pet, and that feeling better is okay.


Keep talking – By discussing the death of your pet as a family and listening to your child’s feelings, you’re laying the foundations for how they’ll deal with loss throughout their lives. Grieving a pet can be difficult, but it can shape how your child processes feelings of loss. You could encourage little ones to express how they feel through talking, writing, drawing or even making a memory box filled with special things that remind them of their pet to help them to process the experience.




The Grieving Brain

When someone or something has died, the body releases hormones and chemicals which triggers our “fight or flight” response. Each day, small reminders of the loss can once again trigger this same stress response. The left prefrontal cortex (our intellectual mind) takes a bit of a backseat and the primitive mind takes over. The primitive mind only responds within the primitive parameters of depression, anxiety, anger or a combination of all three. This can result in heightened anxiety and an inability to ‘think straight’.


Brain Regions Affected by Grief:

  •         The Left Prefrontal Cortex. This is often referred to as the ‘Intellectual Mind’. In this area of the brain, we tend to get things right in life, come up with answers based on a proper assessment and are generally very positive. In grief, this area of the brain becomes UNDERACTIVE.
  •         The Anterior Cingulate Cortex. The anterior cingulate cortex is involved in attention allocation, processing, decision making and error detection. In grief, this area of the brain also becomes UNDERACTIVE.
  •         The Amygdala. This area of the brain is the fear centre and is often referred to as the fight, flight and depression area of the brain. In grief, this area of the brain becomes OVERACTIVE.



Family Activities To Help Children Cope With The Loss of a Pet

  1.     Create a Memory Box. Find a box (or another container) from around the house and have them decorate it. Then suggest that they fill it with objects that give them good memories of their pet who has died. This could be drawings of their pet, photos, their pet’s favourite toy, collar and lead or other items that remind them of their pet.
  2.     Understand that everyone will cope differently. When grieving a pet, it is important to remember that some children may want more time on their own whilst others may feel more of a need for the physical presence of loved ones. Neither is right or wrong.
  3.     Make a Memory Bracelet. For this activity, you could take your child to a craft shop and let them pick out beads that they’d like to use to represent their beloved pet. For example, this could the colour of their pet’s fur, feathers or scales or the colour of their favourite toy, cage or collar. Once you’re back at home, get some string, and help them put their bracelet together. It will be something they can wear whenever they’re missing their pet.
  4.     Paint Pebbles. Go to somewhere with lots of pebbles, like the beach, and pick some smooth, flat stones to paint. You can also buy these online too. Once you are back at home, paint the pebbles together. These could be colourful or have images and/or words on them that will help them remember their pet. If their pet is buried in the garden these could be placed on their grave or kept inside the house as a little memorial to their pet.
  5.     Write a Letter to Your Pet. If the child feels as though they still have more to say to their pet that has died, they could always write them a letter. This could then be placed in their memory box or if possible you could bury or cremated with their pet.
  6.     Plant a Tree or Flowers. If you have a little space in your garden you could plant a tree or some flowers in memory of their pet. This could be done as a family by going to choose the spot in the garden, choosing the plant/tree/flowers from a garden centre together and planting it as a family. If you don’t have room or have a garden you could do the same with a pot plant or seeds in a plant pot. Watching something grow and flourish can be a comfort after loss.

Get in Touch With The Youth Fairy to Help Your Child Deal With Feelings of Loss

If your child is dealing with death and feelings of grief and loss, we can help. At The Youth Fairy, we are a team of experienced, solution-focused therapists who can work with your child to help them deal with their feelings in a healthy manner. Get in touch today or schedule a consultation with our Fairies here.

Contact The Youth Fairy for support for your child here.

If you would like further information, support and guidance, the following links may be helpful:

The Rainbow Bridge Poem –

Cats Protection –

 Blue Cross –

 Winstons Wish –